For many people who live with mental illness, it is hard to hold down a job or find one you are even remotely comfortable with pursuing, simply because the complications and challenges a mental illness can have. This may include inability to get certain jobs or do certain tasks, not being able to keep those jobs, or needing accommodations such as extra time off for doctor appointments. Even with an increase in awareness, it can still be a difficult process to navigate. A person with mental illness may not know how to ask for help or may not feel comfortable with disclosing their medical situation to their employer for fear of discrimination. If they do inform their employer, they may not take you seriously or understand how your illness affects you and your work. Many people don’t even get that far, because the thought of applying for a job that you may not be able to keep can be a frightening and overwhelming task. I know from personal experience how daunting that can be.
While I’d argue that the inability to work is one of the most overlooked topics when it comes to mental health awareness, it can also be perhaps one of the most devastating ones to deal with and the hardest to talk about. It can cause a person who struggles with it to have a shady work history (making it harder to find a job), low self-esteem, feelings of isolation, and financial issues (like not having enough money to pay bills).
According to these articles by the Evening Standard and The Atlantic, science backs up the idea that not working is actually working against your health. When you’re not working because of your health, the negative effects probably worsen. If you’re not “healthy” to begin with, it’s harder to fight off any illnesses or symptoms to come. But it’s a “catch 22”. If your health gets worse when you work and when you don’t work, what can you do?
Many people resort to government assistance in order to survive, such as receiving disability payments or help with paying for housing. Of course, it can be a difficult process to tangle with as there is often an initial denial, followed by an appeals process if the person chooses to pursue it further. A lot of “red tape” can get in the way and make the issues you face progressively worse as time goes on. If you do eventually receive benefits of any kind, it is usually still a struggle to make ends meet, despite programs that are supposedly designed to cover most expenses if you meet their participation criteria.
Many people do not wish to pursue this process due to these reasons, or because they simply don’t want to give up working and being financially independent. That’s fine, but that leaves sufferers to be forced to attempt to work when perhaps they may or may not be able to do so without assistance or problems occurring. As one woman explains it, working with a mental illness is no walk in the park, and it can be a struggle to decide whether to disclose to potential or current employers her condition and the accommodations she needs. As someone with anxiety, I know making that decision is not an easy one.
Personally, I only recall telling one of my previous employers about my depression and anxiety. I decided to do this after he was open about his own issues, so I believed he could understand and find ways to help me. While he did try, the attempts fell flat and ultimately, he didn’t truly understand how bad my condition had gotten by that point. That job ended with me putting in my two-weeks notice, and then not being able to finish them out when I had a breakdown in the parking lot when I was supposed to go in for one of my last shifts. I was frozen with fear and panic. I’m not proud of that moment, but luckily I have been getting help since then while I wasn’t able to before. There were many factors in my life that contributed to that day, but thankfully my life and mental state are in better standing now, and I work hard to keep it that way.
Speaking of disability benefits, The Mighty (a health-topic support website) asked their audience the difficulties of applying for help, to which many people had plenty to say about the process. Meanwhile, I came across an article that states that not working may actually be a good thing (or what to do if you don’t work), and another one that says you need both work and play. In fact, the idea of “play” is so important that the psychology of play was one of my required classes in college. But with all of these conflicting theories of the “do work, don’t work” conundrum, what should you do?
While I don’t claim to know the answers, I will say this: do what you think works for you. Each and every person is different, and so is their situation. Sometimes, at one time it may be better to stay home, and later it may be better to work. Situations change, but don’t ever push yourself past your limit. Don’t be afraid to try if you think there’s a chance you can handle it, but if you begin to fall, reach out for help. There are support groups if you cannot see a doctor. Confide in a friend, family member, coworker or employer if you feel comfortable. But most of all, don’t give up on finding happiness. What doesn’t work today may be the thing that makes you successful down the road. Like the Disney movie “Meet The Robinsons’,” just Keep Moving Forward until you get where you’re going, and then keep going some more. Good luck in those pursuits, my peers.
If you or someone you know is struggling, please don’t hesitate. Get help. If you’d like crisis or suicide (both emergency and non-emergency) helpline information, my blog post about suicide and medications has resources. You are not alone. Thank you for reading, sincerely, and don’t forget to share. Follow me on Twitter and Pinterest (info at the bottom) @IndieBrainer. Let’s have a conversation.
Note: When looking for images for this post, I Googled “working disabled”, and I kid you not, almost every single image on the first page was of a person in a wheelchair. If this doesn’t tell you about stigma in the mental health world, then I don’t know what will, considering there are more people on disability is the U.S. for an “invisible illness” than any other type of disability. Maybe I’ll gather the full data on it and make a post about it, but it is startling to see this. “Disabled” does not mean physically crippled in all cases, yet this is what shows up as representation. Yikes. We have a long way to go.